One of the reasons why I love working in the retail industry is the fact that it evolves in a rapid pace while it gives us the opportunity to learn something new every day. If someone told me a decade ago that we will work with real time information, provided by RFID or AI, and will be able to create personalized solutions by customer profile, I would have thought this is something out of this world. Looking at my daily work today, this is exactly what I do.

The retail industry has been transforming into a smart, digitalized landscape with advanced technologies. While in 2020 the retail apocalypse taught us that we must adapt or die, there were many who only focused on their e-commerce presence and placed less attention on their physical stores.

Although e-commerce is vital, the physical retail space is a must since shopping is a lifestyle and experience that will always remain important to the customers. We are physical beings; the 5 senses are critical to our decision making. Retail is about the people.Now the question is how to reinvent the retail space to suit the new norms. It seems like that recently the customer journey is simplified since in recent years the customers developed a minimalist mindset therefore integrated channels and data driven solutions are necessary to push the right products to the stores and to customers. Customers are making decisions faster therefore incorporating digital features, apps, and smart tech into the physical store will help to close sales.

“Although e-commerce is vital, the physical retail space is a must since shopping is a lifestyle and experience that will always remain important to the customers.”

Smart retail and smart stores became a trending topic among retailers, but since it is a relatively new phenomena, we do not have a best practices guideline, at this point most organizations are taking risk to try to adapt to new digital trends. While McKinsey suggested that traditional offline stores should be redesigned and centered on customer engagement and experience, we also must consider our obligation to our shareholders which is growing a profitable business. After seeing organizations failing with their smart initiatives, as part of my Ph.D. journey, I started to research on smart retailing and smart stores. Interviewed organizations and decision makers on transformation, and the following key success factors were found.

1. The “Bright Shinny Object Syndrome”

When it comes to smart retail tech, it is important to understand customer’s needs and wants. Looking at the technology acceptance model, we understood that customers should have a perceived usefulness when it comes to smart tech, and this is the main factor when they are willing to try a new technology. Identify first: who is your customer, how likely the customer will try/use this technology, and what are the benefits of this technology for the customer and for the organization?

Let’s be honest, if a smart technology does not bring data or any type of benefit for the organization it is considered useless.

2. System Integration

System integration is key. Independent systems used for different departments that aren’t linked together will lower productivity and increase cost. System integration eliminates repetitive manual data, provides new performance insights additionally leads to faster-decision making improving company’s performance. Many of these systems offer real time information as well that we can transform back into strategy.

3. Involvement and internal communication

It is crucial to involve all level of employees with regular briefing and communication on the transformation’s progress. Surprisingly, one of the factors why some organizations failed with their smart transformation is the lack of internal communication.

4. Before and after trainings

Although it is crucial to have trainings prior to the launch of smart technologies, we need to follow up on closing the gaps. Most organizations found problems with their smart technologies or the employees’ know-how after the launch and had to retrain their employees.

5. KPI

What are the company’s expectations from these technologies? And how will we measure them? For instance, if the company launched a mobile POS system it would make sense to add a KPI to the sales associate to measure mobile pos transactions/hour or per day to identify success rate. Most leaders I interviewed during my research have not set KPI to the new technologies therefore could not measure success.

Take Away

The Future of retail is smart. Whether it is RFID, AI, AR, unified commerce, predictive analytics or self-checkout system, smart retail transformation needs to consider multiple factors prior to the implementation. Re-examinations of the company’s infrastructure, smart audit, or just a basic project plan are all necessary to be able to launch a successful smart project. If retailers want to move forward then staying stagnant is not an option!